The Electric Materials Company (EM) is a manufacturer of non-ferrous metal products for industrial electrical applications located in North East, PA. They provide custom engineered and manufactured products and services for the transportation, oil and gas, steel mill, power generation and distribution, mining, military, and nuclear industries. The EM plant covers approximately 420,000 square feet with over 140 employees manufacturing products and services to meet customer specifications.
EM was planning to jumpstart efforts for improving their company culture with a focus on a lean environment, supported by corporate owners, United Stars Inc. of Beloit, Wisconsin. The company had previous programs come and go, including ‘Quality Circles’, and others that had fizzled out. EM Leadership was looking for greater understanding of the basics of lean, as well as guidance for “initiating a culture change”. They were starting a department redesign, mill EDM cell, and thought this area would be a good starting point for integrating the lean mindset.
Lean Together™ is an ongoing collaborative learning program focused on developing true and lasting cultural changes, where everyone’s job is making small incremental improvements- everyday. The program, created by NWIRC, includes nine monthly sessions of classroom education, facility tours, 2 Second Lean book discussions, and assignments. EM management saw the benefits of being involved with the group, starting to apply 2 second improvements of their own, and listening to and seeing what others have tried. “The timing was epic,” said Patti Schwarz, Continuous Improvement and IT Manager. “I had recently been promoted to the position and was searching for local training resources to assist me in my new role.” EM also enrolled Rick Ramsdell, Production Manager and Tony Zimmerman, Engineering Supervisor. This team tailored what they learned to fit immediate needs within their departments. Eventually they initiated a plan for a company-wide lean initiative involving specific departments and individuals as their ‘seeds’ of lean growth. “One of the first things EM’s team did was to share the employee input and feedback with the core EM management team. It did not fall on deaf ears.,” said President, Becky Ramsdell.
One of the fundamentals of 2 Second Lean is to have regular stand-up meetings with employees. EM has weekly meetings in various departments, both in the office and shop floor, that include lots of employee participation, input, ideas, and feedback. “We cover hot jobs and issues in the department, safety concerns, facility events, and an overview of quality assurance. We always like to end on a positive note, no matter where the discussion leads within the group,” said Schwarz.
Schwarz’s favorite aspect of the program is hearing from other companies about their progress, successes, and struggles. “That really put us at ease, because even though we are all on the same path, we go at different speeds, and we may vary our direction to get there,” she said. One of her key takeaways is “keeping it simple”. As far as the improvements they have made thus far, there have been many- from improving the appearance of their lobby to their EDM cell redesign for improving workflow and production. Schwarz noted that employees see that the company is taking action and they have started offering more suggestions. “We are tracking two second improvements, which get posted on 2 boards for both office and shop areas,” she said. “One 2 second improvement made a significant improvement in our plating department production time and labor, thus we awarded that department a pizza party, which was much appreciated.” The team in that department determined a different way to load, clean, organize and reduce cycle time which enables them to deliver quality products in a faster turnaround time. One of EM’s largest customers for this area is pleased with their response to their quick growth in orders, and their orders continue to increase. EM anticipates that being involved with Lean Together could produce an impact of at least $500K of increased sales and $1M in cost savings over the next year.
Schwarz’s recommendation to other companies is not to focus on the numbers at first. “Just get going with 2 second improvements and the numbers will improve and speak for all the hard work the team is putting into the initiative. Along with that, the overall work environment and employee satisfaction will only get better,” she said. In addition, Ramsdell noted that an important item to consider is the team chosen to participate in Lean Together on behalf of the company. “If they are not motivated or well ‘interwoven’ (strong relationships with those being
trained within the facility) into the organization, the implementation will be harder. The carriers of the message (so to say) are an extremely important part of this entire process,” she said.